Well folks, the Melbourne Writers Festival is coming up and if you’re anything like me (or the rest the Vis Ink writing brigade!!) many of you are trolling through programs figuring out what you just can’t miss. But I wonder… Has anyone paused at the theme this year?
Enquire Within…. Ahem. Sorry?
The theme Enquire Within, speaks of knowing the self and / or furthering one’s own self-awareness. My immediate thought? Sure. Maybe at your local yoga centre or even Melbourne’s MindBodySpirit Festival. But MWF?
I got to thinking. Why was this the theme? What in god’s name did it have to do with writing? So I did what every geek does. I did a brainstorm. Literally. On paper.
I thought about writing. Particularly, how we write characters. How we twist them and mould them and layer them and manipulate them and challenge them. How we gather characteristics and attributes for them to cling to for survival.
My teacher tells me, we don’t read because we want to find out about characters; we read because we want to become characters. So, as writers, how do we write characters that have multiple dimensions, characters that are essentially human, characters who speak to readers?
Characters that readers can seamlessly become must be believable. And to write believable characters, we have to be able to recognise the things that make us human: the good, the profound, the bad, and (yes folks,) the ugly.
What are your weak points as a human being? What are your best points? What do you judge in others, and why do you judge it? What makes you cringe? Envious? Moved? Why are you angry? Why are you really angry?
How well do you know yourself?
If you don’t examine your own nature honestly, can you still hope to understand the subtle ways to make your characters human? And, is it vital to know your own contradictions, both inward and outward, to form those of your characters?
I’d argue, to write fiction that traverses that precarious boundary between writer and reader, to embed layers of human complexity and subtle tensions between your characters, you have to study yourself and the world you live in.
Annie Lamott once said:
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”
― Anne Lamott
Next, I googled Enquire Within, and this is what I found:
“Enquire Within About Everything”
“Whether you wish to model a flower in wax; to study the rules of etiquette; to serve relish for breakfast or supper; to plan a dinner for a large party or a small one; to cure a headache; to make a will; to get married; to bury a relative; whatever you may wish to do, make, or to enjoy, provided your desire has relation to the necessities of domestic life, I hope you will not fail to ‘Enquire Within.’ –Editor.
Enquire Within, as it was known in short form, was a Victorian how-to book for domestic life, published in London, 1856 by Houlston and Sons. The book was created with the intention of providing encyclopedic information on topics as diverse as ettiquete, parlour games, cake recipes, laundry tips, holiday preparation and first aid! It was continually reprinted in new and updated editions for at least the next 100 years!
In fact, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, apparently named his precursor of the World Wide Web, Enquire, after the book, because its title was suggestive of a portal to a world of information! Is MWF trying to hint at our headfirst dive into the digital age of information?
See this English lad and his somewhat awkward introduction to the book below! Good for a giggle.
Interesting. Interesting indeed.
So! After much thought and some research, I’ve decided that the theme for this years Melbourne Writers Festival is very apt. It suggests a very interesting lesson for us all; writing involves deliberate enquiry into the human condition and the world we live in. And (yes folks,) that involves an enquiry into the digital world, which writers are increasingly embracing.
Know the world, and (hopefully) the rest will follow.